For this post, I’m delighted to chat with Dick Pyle about truffles. Yes, you heard that right. Truffles. And I do mean the distinctive culinary fungus that people either love or hate… or maybe can’t make up their minds about.
Dick has previously worked in a variety of fields (no pun intended), including as a restaurateur, chartered accountant and plant nurseryman. In 2002, he moved to Barran, in the South West of France. There, he established a truffière: an orchard of oak trees whose roots are mycorrhized with truffle spores.
Truffle cultivation is not a short-term initiative. Dick found his first truffles just this year, with the aid of Claude and Jicky (Claude’s dog).
Caroline: Dick, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions and satisfy my curiosity. How many trees do you have, and over what area?
Dick: Just over one thousand trees covering 2.5 hectares.
(A hectare is about the size of a rugby pitch or around 40 tennis courts, if I calculate right)
Caroline: Did you plant all those trees by hand?
Dick: Yes, with help.
Caroline: Wow. Sounds like a lot of work, but at least the initial investment sets up for the longer term. What’s your working day like now?
Dick: Very variable. Bit of office work, answering e-mails and collecting annual maintenance charges. Outside, pruning is big at present now it’s cooler, weeding, photography.
Caroline: My first thought when people mention truffle hunting is pigs. But I gather you mainly use dogs.
Dick: Using pigs is a bit like using little boys to clean chimneys. Other than the occasional pig v dog demos dogs are de rigeur. If a 200kg pig finds a truffle who do you think gets to keep it?
Caroline: Good point! What have you enjoyed most so far?
Dick: Finding our first truffles, meeting Val Singleton (still friends).
Caroline: And least?
Dick: I guess the many unsuccessful hunts before we struck gold.
Caroline: Any favourite recipes?
Dick: Yes – a truffle omelette.
Caroline: Thinking about my A Quiet Rebellion books (of course I have to get a plug in!), the inhabitants of my world have no domestic mammals – no dogs or pigs. Would it be possible for people to find truffles without such help?
Dick: I doubt it though some reckon you can find truffles by following the truffle fly.
Caroline: Not sure I’d fancy finding something edible by following an insect… A slightly related question: When hunting with pigs or dogs, do you or fellow truffle hunters ever get a sense of what trees might yield something this time?
Dick: Well, apart from the brûlés, no. Though some people have claimed to sense truffles.
Caroline: I’d imagine if such people can live up to their claims, they’d be in serious demand!
If the above conversation has whetted your appetite for truffles, Dick has trees available for adoption. You’ll be in good company. Past or current tree owners include two double Oscar winners (William Goldman and Paul Haggis), Clive Anderson and Terry Jones. There’s also plenty to do nearby.
Dick: Our site is www.truffle-tree.com. We have a few trees left with brûlés – the first indication that the truffle is preparing to fruit. Just choose “Adopt a Tree“. We are an hour from the beautiful city of Toulouse and under two hours from the Pyrenees. Le Gers is a lovely quiet, little-known area with a superb regional cuisine, great wines, fortified villages, stunning countryside, churches and cathedrals.